My six year old is soon to be seven, but she still uses a handful of words she hasn’t realized yet that she herself made up. One of them is “gladfully,” which she uses to mean “thank goodness,” as in: “We arrived just in time for the movie, gladfully.”
There’s something inspiring about that to me, about the fact that she assembled that word one day, out of necessity to express a particular emotion, and drawing from all her previous experiences… and it worked, so here she is still using it. When we’re kids we’re much more used to figuring stuff out, to winging it. By necessity, kids are improvising all the time. As Indiana Jones once famously said, “I’m just making it up as I go along.”
This year, we’ve been making it up as we go along too. Looking back to this time last year I realize how awfully clueless we were about what A Year of No Sugar would entail: we had yet to fully understand what fructose was, its many, many aliases, and what the deal was with omnipresent “no sugar” ingredients like sugar substitutes and sugar alcohols. I had yet to go through my banana, date, coconut, oligofructose, and “what do you mean I can’t have carob?” phases. I had yet to read David Gillespie’s Sweet Poison, and through it to discover dextrose as a non-fructose sweetener. All I knew was that Dr. Robert Lustig’s YouTube lecture had convinced me: sugar was a toxin.
Now, as we sit on the doorstep of being done with our No Sugar Year, I feel a crazy mix of emotions: relief, delight, surprise, apprehension. What happens next? What was it all for? Have we changed our lifestyle for the better, or have we merely stubbornly proved a point? I took offense when a friend termed our project an “intellectual exercise,” as if that characterization somehow minimized our effort, but does it? And is it? Perhaps the answers to those questions will be slowly revealed to us as we progress forward into 2012: the Year of Figuring Out What to do Now.
Recently, we’ve had a whole series of family conversations about this what-happens-next business, and a lot of talk has centered around looking forward to things we haven’t been able to enjoy this year. This morning I took a breakfast table poll and found out that Greta misses BLTs as much as anything, and that Steve misses restaurant condiments perhaps even more than dessert: ketchup on his french fries, salad dressing on his salad, mayo on his sandwiches. After careful consideration, Ilsa decided that, in addition to maple syrup, she was looking forward to having Jell-O, (which is kind of funny since we never make Jell-O.)
Me? I miss a good chocolate chip cookie, for which we never did find a suitable fructose-free replacement. If we ever make it back to Italy, even if it’s in February, I intend to have more than one gelato. I look forward to being able to eat out without giving our waitress the Spanish Inquisition.
It’s safe to say that Steve is especially excited about the end of our No Sugar Year. I know this because during our Christmas travels he bought a handful of Dutch chocolate bars and a 64 piece Lebanese pastry sampler for us to enjoy “after the first.” I’m trying not to be alarmed about this mild case of gourmet sugar hoarding- after all, how many husbands would’ve been supportive of a family project like this one? Then, the other night when I expressed a lack of interest in a sugared dessert, Steve made the comment, “Hey- I want my wife back.” I must admit, this kind of freaked me out. Back? Had I gone somewhere? Was I no longer the person who loved a good Reese’s Peanut Butter cup? Have I become a permanent killjoy?
I don’t think so, at least I hope not. The way I see it, it’s quite the opposite: my appreciation for food and where it comes from, what it’s made of, and what is required for its preparation has gone up manyfold. More than anything this year has taught me how much I love food, how important it is, and how little attention our culture collectively pays to it. Food is the stuff of life- we are what we eat- feeding yourself well is caring for yourself- choose your favorite slogan. It’s all more true than we could ever fully realize.
This year has taught me that, just like anything toxic- alcohol, nicotine- we need as a society to start handling sugar (fructose) with care, as potentially addictive, potentially dangerous. I wonder, can we even do that? Do we have the self-possession to realize that “moderation” does not mean “whatever the amount I eat is”?
I’ve come to understand that sugar, while fun, is nutritionally “expensive.” Why would I want to waste my allotment of it on vending machine cookies or breakfast cereal? Why not save it for that truly something special? Americans instead simply decide to have it all: the good, the bad and the ugly… and then are tragically surprised when health ramifications ensue. No one ever told them sugar could be really, truly harmful.
Steve likes to cite the fact that the ice cream Sunday got it’s name from the fact that the soda shop that invented it only served it on Sundays. Just think of that. Can you imagine Friendly’s only serving ice cream one day per week? Consequently, my 2012 proposal to my family is to have dessert with actual sugar in it once per week. After this year, that sounds to me like a whole lot, but then again after our adventures at Christmas visiting relatives and friends, watching how much sugar is involved in their everyday lives, I think it will be a reasonable compromise.
Likewise, after tonight we’ll return to eating bacon and ketchup without fear. We’ll buy Hellman’s Mayonnaise again for our tuna fish sandwiches. I won’t blanch at restaurant bread that has a teaspoon of sugar in the ingredients. Heck, I may even stop taking pictures of my food.
Some things, however, will stay permanently changed. Juice is off the table; soda always was. I almost never bought cookies or other store-bought desserts before, moving forward those will remain promoted to the “never-never” list. I will continue to check my crackers and other products, avoiding anything with sugar as a filler ingredient. Fast food restaurants are still entirely out. Chain restaurants will be in the category of “in case of extreme emergency.” Instead of them, we’ll stubbornly continue to seek out good restaurants, local restaurants, places where they actually make the food they serve. At home, I will continue to make my own pizza, yeasted breads and quick breads. Perhaps most significantly, I will continue use dextrose for everyday baking and cooking.
Am I worried about going forward with the rules changing in this fashion? Nervous we’ll go overboard like an alcoholic who thinks he’s got his act together and can “handle” it? I am. But Steve likens our No Sugar Year to what he experienced in the Marines. “You go through an experience that changes you,” he says, “and you get out and you say, “’Now what?’ But still, you really aren’t the same. That conditioning is always there. That’s how I feel.”
I honestly don’t expect us to plow through those Lebanese pastries in the fashion we would’ve a year ago. Rather, I imagine we’ll have a bite or two- as we each did with our allotment of one of Grandma Sharon’s famous Christmas sugar cookies- and then say “That’s good. And sweet!!”
Only time will tell. Gladfully.